Free Press champions individual life, liberty

Posted by Tom Camfield

The history of journalism in America goes back to Sept. 25, 1690 in Boston. It was three printed pages (and one blank), about 6 x 10 inches in size. “Publick Occurrences, Both Foreign and Domestic.” 

It was intended as a monthly publication, but four days after the initial issue (printed by Richard Pence and edited by Benjamin Harris), local government (governor and council) ordered the publication suppressed, stating it had been issued “without the least privity or countenance of authority.” 

Harris had written about such things as the immoralities of the King of France and the barbarism with which allies of the English had treated French captives in the French and Indian War. Thus the very first newspaper in America also became the first to be suppressed by authorities. For more detail see: http://www.paperage.com/issues/nov_dec2004/11_2004newspapers.pdf

The officials in charge in those days had the power to do more than just try to discredit a free press and hire town criers to shout out to the public about “fake news.” How Donald Trump and his minions must envy that.

So 328 years ago our society, though rudimentary in many ways by today’s standards, had a conscience attuned to the common man’s best interests in the form of the printed word—along with dictatorial corruption in government. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The press has continued to plug along from the 17th century to the 21st, and it dare not take its foot off the gas pedal for a moment—as the dark side remains with us ever seeking to greedily eviscerate the minds and morals of the kind spirits and gentle souls that continue to emerge from the womb with each generation.

The first continuously published newspaper was the Boston News-Letter, 1704. Freedom the Press was largely affirmed in 1734 when publisher John Peter Zenger of Philadelphia’s American Weekly Mercury was arrested and imprisoned on libel charges for attacking the policies of Governor William Cosby. In the famous 1735 trial  Zenger was defended by Andrew Hamilton, who established truth as a defense in cases of libel. Zenger’s acquittal helped establish freedom of the press in America.

Other early newspapers included Benjamin Franklin’s New-England Courant in Boston, established in 1721. Other papers appeared throughout the colonies as years passed. 

But the most incendiary and popular publication of pre-Revolutionary times was a pamphlet, Common Sense, “written by Thomas Paine in 1775–76 advocating independence from Great Britain to people in the Thirteen Colonies. Written in clear and persuasive prose, Paine marshaled moral and political arguments to encourage common people in the Colonies to fight for egalitarian government. It was published anonymously on Jan. 10, 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution, and became an immediate sensation. (See Wikipedia)

“It was sold and distributed widely and read aloud at taverns and meeting places. In proportion to the population of the colonies at that time (2.5 million), it had the largest sale and circulation of any book published in American history. As of 2006, it remains the all-time best selling American title, and is still in print today . . .”

Paine’s phrase “These are the times that try men’s souls” also lives on and is every bit as apropos today.

“At least one newspaper printed the entire pamphlet: the Connecticut Courant did so in its issue of Feb. 19, 1776. Writing in 1956, Richard Gimbel estimated, in terms of circulation and impact, that an ‘equivalent sale today, based on the present population of the United States, would be more than six-and-one-half million copies within the short space of three months’.”

Despite denigration by Disoriented Donald of major newspapers such as The New York Times (which he calls “failing”) and The Washington Post (owned by someone richer than he) and the failure of some papers due to the drain-off of advertising revenues to electronic media, print newspapers still are alive and well. A model for today is The Los Angeles Times, the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 1.4 million and 2.5 million on Sunday, more than 22 million unique latimes.com visitors monthly and a combined print and online local weekly audience of 4.1 million. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Times has been covering Southern California for more than 133 years.

Just a wee bit longer than our own Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, which has served the public for 129 years. It is a prize-winning model for today’s weekly press. I first worked there myself 75 years ago. 

I also have a long loyalty to The Seattle Times, for which I was the town’s main carrier boy 76 years ago. Its print edition has leaned down some in recent years but, including its seattletimes.com edition, it still is carrying on well as a locally-owned, private, independent news source. Just this morning’s issue alone (March 2 as I gather my notes here) informed me that Gov. Inslee vetoed a self-serving legislative public records bill, about armed school teachers around the country, that Slovenian Melanie Trump became a U. S. citizen via a special VISA as a person of “extraordinary ability,” about Russia’s nuclear capabilities, about the chaos in the Trump White House (and related stories on administrative personnel), about coming storms, about Congress’ lack of interest in gun-control measures . . . and on and on through more local and national news, business, sports and editorial sections. 

The Times is the fourth-largest paper on the west coast. Some 575,000 read the daily edition and 808,200 the Sunday.

Which brings me to the findings of a study conducted by Gallup Poll and the philanthropic Knight Foundation that indicates the public has been seduced to some extent by the ravings of Donald Trump in dismissing as “fake news” anything not stroking his ego. Confidence in the press has been slipping. However, a part of that study showed that 4 of 10 Republicans said they always regard as “fake news” anything that casts a favored group in a negative light. They concede it is true, but they regard it as “fake news” if they don’t like what it says.

So what I just wrote will be automatically dismissed, no doubt, by 40% of Republicans, despite its impeccable source. 

As examples of actual fake news that’s back-stabbing the very journalistic profession that’s trying to champion society’s right to know, I mentioned in my last blog (and which bears repeating) a Republican candidate down in Arizona who said, “If you look at all the fiascos that have occurred, 99 percent of them have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people. So I don’t think you have a problem with the Republicans.” Also, Rep. Claudia Tenny (New York Republican) said in the wake of the Parkland shooting that “it’s interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats. But the media doesn’t talk about that.” The fact-checking site Snopes.com found that an online list purporting to show that assassins are more likely to be Democrats was, in fact, wildly flawed: Among other errors, it simply ignored any mass shooting known to be committed by someone with Republican or conservative views, and it identified shooters who were not Democrats as Democrats.

Trump’s supporters would be at the forefront in immediately dismissing out of hand all manner of things I read everyday that are based on fact. For instance, columnist Timothy Egan of The New York Times wrote recently that “Since 1995 there have been more than 4,000 instances of someone rising in Congress to express ‘thoughts and prayers.’ And since that time about seven children or teenagers have been killed on average, every day by guns.” That’s real news, but it won’t be accepted as such by the likes of someone like Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate leader in the U. S. Congress. 

Donald Trump, of course, doesn’t read (or listen much to others), preferring to make up his own version of “news.” He is assisted in this by Fox & Friends on TV, which he can watch while tweeting. 

But back to the press, only someone who has worked “inside” on small-town journalism can truly appreciate the tremendous job—true to the altruistic tenets of journalism—that is being done week in and week out by our local paper. It has actually expanded its print edition under its newest publisher, and I’m fascinated how efficiently the staff manages to put it all together. It makes me wish I were young again. And this on-line edition expands even further the free exchange of opinion by one and all (sort of like a voting booth in a way).

As you’ve obviously realized by now, journalism will remain dear to my heart until my dying day—and will live on in my bones unless I’m cremated. I have a 76-year connection now that began as a carrier boy for the Seattle Star and has stretched to my current role as a Leader blogger. I have been involved in various ways—some minor, I must admit—with three Seattle daily papers (in the ‘50s while at the Leader wrote on the side for the Seattle P-I’s Sunday magazine section for $50 a page), the Associated Press (as a stringer), five weekly newspapers (one of which I published myself) and one magazine. Have written eight books. My buddies and I had a brief mimeograph bit of an underground paper when I was in high school, and I wrote for a Presidio of San Francisco post newspaper while in the Army some 67 years ago. 

American journalism is 328 years old. It will continue on though the slings and arrows of self-serving buffoons in public office. It’s an even tougher profession world-wide. A total of 65 journalists were killed around the world last year, 39 were murdered and deliberately targeted because of their reporting, while 26 were victims of conflict. Also, 326 reporters were detained in connection with the provision of news and information; and 262 were put behind bars for their work in 2017. In 2017, the number of women journalists killed doubled compared with the previous year.

A CURRENT HIGHLIGHT: Senate Bill 5064, which would prevent school administrators from censoring the work of student journalists in public schools swept though our state House of Representatives 91-6 and was due at this writing for another vote in the Senate in its revised form.

TWEET OF THE WEEK—Me, me, me!  Donald had to make even the Oscars all about him: @realDonaldTrump, 5:25 a.m., March 6: “Lowest rated Oscars in History. Problem is, we don’t have Stars any more - except your President (just kidding, of course)!” The egomania that drives such tweets appears to be boundless.

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